Sunderland funeral director wrongly denied grieving family the chance to say goodbye

Tina Kent with a photograph of her late mother Pauline.
Tina Kent with a photograph of her late mother Pauline.
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A GRIEVING daughter has hit out at a funeral director, claiming he denied her the chance to say goodbye to her mum.

An inquest heard how Sunderland undertaker Tony Clarke-Dearing told the family of Pauline Kent they could not pay their respects because of a “highly contagious” infection and her coffin needed to stay closed.

Tony Clarke

Tony Clarke

Mum-of-two Mrs Kent, 58, died at Sunderland Royal Hospital on January 2 after a two-year battle with cancer.

The family had hoped to pay their respects at Mr Clarke-Dearing’s parlour on January 11, which would have been her birthday.

But he rang daughter Tina Kent the day before to say they couldn’t go because her body was in such a “horrendous” condition.

Miss Kent, 35, from Downhill, Sunderland, told an inquest yesterday: “He rang me and asked for permission to close the coffin, because my mam was highly contagious, but he would come out and see me and explain.

“He said she was in a body bag and the embalmers refused to embalm her because of the infection.

“I was distraught. I was literally on my hands and knees, sobbing.”

The former customer service assistant’s body was returned to the mortuary after Sunderland Coroner’s Office intervened, and the funeral was eventually dealt with by another undertaker. Miss Kent said: “When I went to see her, she looked beautiful.

“He tried to deny me the right to see my mam.”

The coroner’s office contacted the hospital over the infection claims.

But mortuary manager Angela Birks told the hearing bodies were released to undertakers with a form, to let them know if an infection was present.

Mrs Kent had diarrhoea and because of this, her body had been placed in a bag.

But the form stated she had not suffered the highly-contagious Clostridium difficile.

Mr Clarke-Dearing – who was accused in the inquest by Miss Kent of using a derelict flower shop as a chapel of rest – said an abbreviation on the form led him to believe Mrs Kent was infectious.

But he admitted he did not call the mortuary to clarify its meaning, instead consulting an embalmer and a solicitor.

“It was not the fact I did not want to, but I wanted to call a more experienced person.

“Tina said she wanted the coffin to be closed.

“I had to think of the health and safety issues of me and my staff. You have feelings for the family, but you have to protect them as well,” he added.

Senior Coroner Derek Winter recorded that Mrs Kent died of natural causes.

He said: “I find the actions of Mr Clarke were ill-informed and unnecessary.

“All he had to do was speak to the hospital. He undermined the integrity of the death certificate and the mortuary procedures.

“I find the evidence of Mr Clarke was unreliable and his actions were contrary to the principles enunciated in the Public Inquiry into the Identification of Victims following Major Transport Disasters in 2001, when Lord Justice Clarke gave a clear and emphatic lead on permitted social viewing.

“I paraphrase: ‘The importance of viewing a body for the grieving process should be emphasised.

“While there may be reservations about the wisdom of viewing the remains, members of the family should never be prevented from viewing.’”

Speaking after the hearing, Miss Kent said she had not been able to grieve properly and is now campaigning for funeral directors to be licensed.

She added: “I’m just so relieved that the coroner has had it out in the open.

“He has not apologised and after what Tony Clarke has done to me, he could not apologise for that.”